On this day in 1888, James Field Smathers was born near Valley Spring, Texas. In 1908 he became a typist, accountant, and credit manager for a firm in Kansas City, Missouri. He soon realized the need for some means to increase the speed and decrease the fatigue of typing, and the use of electric power seemed to him the obvious solution. By 1912 he had completed a working model and applied for a patent, which was issued the next year. In 1914 he built an electric typewriter that performed perfectly. In 1923 the Northeast Electric Company of Rochester, New York, entered into a royalty contract with Smathers for the production of electric typewriters. However, private industrial acceptance of the electric typewriter did not come until 1930, when a subsidiary of Northeast Electric put the Electromatic model on the market. This company was purchased by the International Business Machines Corporation in 1933, a step which marked the beginning of the IBM Office Products Division. In 1938 Smathers joined the Rochester staff of IBM as a consultant and worked in development engineering at Poughkeepsie until his retirement in 1953. He died in 1967. Smathers was one of a number of Texas inventors, such as Gail Borden Jr., John Wesley Carhart, Carl Crane, Bette Graham, Ole Ringness, Ned Barnes, and Robert Munger, whose ideas spread far beyond the borders of the state.
On this day in 1899, Tulia, Texas, reported the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state--minus 23 degrees Fahrenheit. This was part of the "Big Freeze," an infamous norther that killed 40,000 cattle across the state overnight. This temperature was matched in Seminole in 1933. The highest temperature recorded for Texas was 120.
On this day in 1869, sixty-one men, women, and children died when the sidewheel steamboat Mittie Stephens caught fire on Caddo Lake during a run from New Orleans to Jefferson, Texas. The boat had been plying the New Orleans-Red River route since 1866. At that time Jefferson was the head of navigation via Caddo Lake due to the great log raft that obstructed traffic on the Red River. The Mittie Stephens had left New Orleans on February 5 with 107 passengers and crew and a cargo that included 274 bales of hay. On the night of the twelfth, a breeze blew a spark to the hay from the torch baskets that lighted the bows of the boat, and the resulting fire could not be contained. The boat headed for the shore, 300 yards away, but grounded in three feet of water near Swanson's Landing. The pilot and the engineer kept the wheels running in an attempt to force the boat to shore; the action of the wheels pulled the people struggling in the water into them and killed most of them. The Mittie Stephens burned to the water line, and parts of the wreck could be seen above the water until the early twentieth century. Jefferson remained the principal riverport of Texas until the logjam was removed in 1874.